The fact that the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl is one of the College Football Playoff’s “New Year’s Six” games is not all that surprising when you look at its history. Even when the game was played in Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium, it was able to put together interesting and well-attended matchups. In the 1990s, the game moved into the Georgia Dome, signed agreements with the SEC and ACC and received sponsorship from Chick-fil-A. From there, it became the most successful non-BCS bowl of the BCS era.
There have been many outstanding games played since the first Peach Bowl in 1968 (Note: More than 25 Peach Bowls have been decided by seven or fewer points so picking the five best is about like picking your five favorite members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, i.e., three or four stand out but many are equally fab. I kept this list to matchups that pitted ranked teams against each other.).
5. Auburn 23, Clemson 20 – Dec. 31, 2007
This is only time this bowl game has ever gone into overtime. Clemson held a 7-3 at halftime, but Auburn’s Kodi Burns hit Mario Fannin for a 22-yard touchdown pass in third quarter to take a 10-7 lead. In the fourth, Clemson scored 10 unanswered points and Auburn responded with one of its own to tie the game at 17-17. The two teams traded punts the rest of the quarter, sending the game into overtime. Clemson got the ball first and had to settle for a field goal. Auburn then drove down to the Tigers’ seven-yard line, where they faced a third-and-three. Burns took the snap and ran into the end zone, giving his team a 23-20 win. The game would mark Tommy Tuberville and Tommy Bowden’s last bowl appearance as the respective Auburn and Clemson head coaches. They would both be fired the following season.
4. Georgia 35, Virginia 33 – Dec. 31, 1998
Virginia jumped out to a 21-0 second quarter lead, but the Bulldogs did not panic and methodically worked their way back to take a 28-27 lead in the fourth quarter. They extended the lead to 35-27 when quarterback Quincy Carter snuck into the end zone with seven minutes to go. Then Virginia quarterback Aaron Brooks broke free and ran for a 30-yard touchdown with 1:34 left. However, his pass on the attempted two-point conversion was batted down, so the Cavaliers still trailed 35-33. Virginia cleverly sent two kickers onto the field for the onside kick, confusing the Bulldogs and recovering the ball. Virginia running back Thomas Jones then put his team in field goal position with a 26-yard run, but kicker Todd Braverman’s 48-yard field goal attempt hooked wide.
3. Texas A&M 52, Duke 48 – Dec. 31, 2013
Johnny Manziel’s pro career has been mired in drama and minimal results, but his last college football game reminds us why we cared. With his Aggies down 38-17 at the half, Johnny Football engineered a furious comeback in the highest-scoring game in the bowl’s history. Manziel threw for two touchdowns and ran for another to close Duke’s lead to 48-45 with 5:44 left in the game. On the following drive, Toney Hurd Jr., intercepted Duke quarterback Anthony Boone’s pass at the A&M 45-yard line and ran it back for a touchdown to give the Aggies a 52-48 lead. Another interception on the Blue Devils’ ensuing drive sealed the exciting, come-from-behind victory.
2. East Carolina 37, NC State 34 – Jan. 1, 1992
At 11-1, the 1991 East Carolina Pirates are the best football team in the school’s history and capped their season with this unbelievable comeback. The Pirates were down 34-17 with 8:41 left in the game and its fans began chanting, “We believe.” The support and the Pirates’ newly unveiled shotgun formation prompted one of the greatest comebacks in bowl history. Quarterback Jeff Blake led the Pirates on three consecutive scoring drives and put his team ahead 37-34 with 1:32 to go. The Wolfpack attempted to tie the game as time expired, but kicker Damon Hartman’s 49-yard field goal fell short and to the right. This also was the last Peach Bowl played in Fulton County Stadium.
1. Clemson 25, LSU 24 – Dec. 31, 2012
Both teams were 10-2 and ranked in the top 15 when these pair of Tigers met in Atlanta. Despite only earning nine first downs, LSU had capitalized on two Clemson turnovers and held a 24-13 lead going into the fourth quarter. However, Clemson owned the rest of the game, holding LSU to 15 total yards in the final quarter. The ACC’s Tigers added a field goal and a touchdown (the two-point conversion failed) to close the lead to 24-22. Then Clemson kicker Chandler Cantanzaro kicked a 37-yard field goal as time expired to clinch a 25-24 victory. The win gave Clemson its first 11-win season since it won the national title in 1981. "You can't win 12 until you win 11," head coach Dabo Swinney said afterwards. "You can't win a national championship until you learn how to win games like this.” His words seem very prophetic heading into this year’s College Football Playoff.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.